After previously recording my observations at the numerous Colorado gambling casinos, my recent journey to Arizona provided the material to record similar perceptions of the numerous gambling venues in that state. Unlike the Colorado casinos to which I have made contributions, all of the Arizona casinos I’ve seen are proudly representing American Indian populations of one sort or another. By no means would I suggest that their character or quality are impacted by this reality. But the effect of those origins are clearly identifiable.
When you visit a casino in Colorado (with the exception of a few humble, family-owned establishments that recall days of mining and dance hall girls who are probably named Belle), you are often reminded of small-scale versions of Las Vegas entities. You have the points collected by players’ clubs, the promotional mails and emails and the glitz and glamor of a Nevada address. Population notwithstanding, if you focus and think creatively, you can imagine yourself in Sin City with the strolling cocktail waitresses and Hollywood personalities.
This is the scene of a lifetime that anyone would die for and Sin City is similar to Las Vegas when it comes to casinos where you get everything from buktiqq to blackjack.
Sights in Arizona are altogether different. What these casinos are missing with respect to neon lights, however, they compensate with local color. Every casino we saw had a name that was a challenge to pronounce. They were American Indian reservation spaces but the combination of Indian words with “casino” made it simple to identify where you were.
Many had long rows of buses parked in the lot and periodically the announcement would be made that the buses to various places were now loading and preparing to depart. Great secrecy prevailed with respect to the destinations of those buses. I never did determine if they were headed to the Indian reservations or the local senior centers. Either option would be logical. In case you forgot which bus was yours, all of the bus travelers had tags of various colors identifying their groups.
The population and their behavior were fascinating. Most of the casino inhabitants were seniors who gave the definite impression that they were on critical missions. They had their players’ cards conveniently attached to lanyards or key rings. In each case, he or she would select a specific machine, insert the card and choose the number of coins that were to be wagered. The look of urgent business was on each face. Winning didn’t change the expressions nor did losing. I wondered if the casino visit was similar to grocery shopping or a trip to the dentist – it was simply something that you did, something not to be questioned or compromised.
My favorite curiosity was the young women who were everywhere. Their presence was perhaps a function of Arizona unemployment or the perplexing possibility that this was their occupation. Once again, these ladies were resolute and as single-minded of purpose as if they were changing tires or cooking elaborate meals. Even more confusing was their consistent relationships with their slot machines.
Many of these women appeared to be having spiritual interactions with the screens of the slot machines. Over and over, without any particular trigger they would rub their hands across the screen, almost as if to conjure winning combinations. I didn’t observe it once. I saw it happen a hundred times. It would have been an imposition or discourteous to create further inquiry – does it work, what does it do, to whom are you appealing for intervention?
FYI, I did not try this methodology for myself. At some points in our casino visits, this type of ceremony would have been unnecessary. At other times, I am certain that nothing short of lightning-bolt flavors of intervention would have been of use to me. But it was always a curiosity to me and will remain a mystery, I suppose.
Other than this ceremony and the comparative humility of the casinos we visited, the casino environment is consistent no matter where you are. You have the major noise factor, the determined participants and the regulars who appear to incorporate casino life as a given.
Losing isn’t any easier than it is in one of our more flamboyant Colorado casinos, but at least here you have the consolation of contributing something to the American-Indian community. The gift shop assortment is more colorful and ethnic, the food is less expensive and the parking lots are not multi-level.
Population is decidedly different, however. Part of me wished that many of these people were sufficiently employed that their gambling was subordinated. But after all, it is not for me to worry about everyone. My middle-class, Midwestern family values of job, home, picket fence, 2.5 children and spotted dog in the yard are probably obsolete or irrelevant. Sadly, I wish that they weren’t.